What I Read This Month: August 2020

Books Gretchen has read

For three years now, every Monday morning, I’ve posted a photo on my Facebook Page of the books I finished during the week, with the tag #GretchenRubinReads.

I get a big kick out of this weekly habit—it’s a way to shine a spotlight on all the terrific books that I’ve read.

As I write about in my book Better Than Before, for most of my life, my habit was to finish any book that I started. Finally, I realized that this approach meant that I spent time reading books that bored me, and I had less time for books that I truly enjoy. These days, I put down a book if I don’t feel like finishing it, so I have more time to do my favorite kinds of reading.

This habit means that if you see a book included in the #GretchenRubinReads photo, you know that I liked it well enough to read to the last page.

When I read books related to an area I’m researching for a writing project, I carefully read and take notes on the parts that interest me, and skim the parts that don’t. So I may list a book that I’ve partly read and partly skimmed. For me, that still “counts.”

If you’d like more ideas for habits to help you get more reading done, read this post or download my “Reading Better Than Before” worksheet.

You can also follow me on Goodreads where I’ve recently started tracking books I’ve read.

If you want to see what I read last month, the full list is here.

August 2020 Reading:

Pet by Akwaeke Emezi (Amazon, Bookshop) — National Book Award Finalist, Stonewall Book Award Winner. A deeply imaginative novel that surprised me at every turn.

Symptoms of Being Human by Jeff Garvin (Amazon, Bookshop) — Lambda Literary Award Finalist, American Library Association Best Fiction for Young Adults Selection, and a Rainbow List Selection. A thought-provoking novel of a challenging coming-of-age.

In Pursuit of Silence: Listening for Meaning in a World of Noise by George Prochnik (Amazon, Bookshop) — Even before I started researching the five senses, I loved reading books about silence. This is a fascinating book about noise pollution of all kinds.

It’s Not All Downhill from Here by Terry McMillan (Amazon, Bookshop) — A fast-paced novel about the relationships of family, friends, and sweethearts, and how they unfold over time.

How to Be Black by Baratunde Thurston (Amazon, Bookshop) — A book that manages to be laugh-out-loud funny while exploring very serious issues. After I finished it, I immediately subscribed to Thurston’s six-episode podcast We’re Having a Moment and his weekly email. Plus he just launched a new podcast, How to Citizen with Baratunde.

Transcendent Kingdom by Yaa Gyasi (Amazon, Bookshop) — I managed to get my hands on this novel before it hit the shelves. Brilliant, unforgettable, haunting.

Chickens, Gin, and a Maine Friendship: The Correspondence of E. B. White and Edmund Ware Smith by E. B. White and Edmund Ware Smith (Amazon, Bookshop) — My mother lent me her copy. Who can ever get enough of E. B. White, on any subject?

Sag Harbor by Colson Whitehead (Amazon, Bookshop) — Finalist, PEN/Faulkner Award for Fiction; Finalist, Hurston-Wright Legacy Award. I’m working my way through Whitehead’s work (see below), and I moved this one to the top of the stack after I read this great BBC list, “The Greatest Summer Novels Ever Written.”

Where the Bluebird Sings to the Lemonade Springs: Living and Writing in the West by Wallace Stegner (Amazon, Bookshop) — Nominated for a National Book Critics Circle award. Stegner’s novel Crossing to Safety (Amazon, Bookshop) is one of Justice Sandra Day O’Connor’s favorite novels, and Stegner was her writing teacher at Stanford, so I’ve always felt a special interest in him. Plus I love essays.

Perception: How Our Bodies Shape Our Minds by Dennis Proffitt and Drake Baer (Amazon, Bookshop) — Research for the five senses! I can’t read enough about the body and the mind.

Brown Girl, Brownstones by Paule Marshall (Amazon, Bookshop) — A classic. A story of adolescence, identity, New York City, family, love.

How to Do Nothing: Resisting the Attention Economy by Jenny Odell (Amazon, Bookshop) — Named one of the best books of the year by Time, The New Yorker, NPR, The New York Public Library, and many others. A deeply interesting book. I took a lot of notes as I was reading.

Homegoing by Yaa Gyasi (Amazon, Bookshop) — PEN/Hemingway award winner; a New York Times Notable Book. After I read Transcendent Kingdom (see above), I couldn’t wait to read Gyasi’s debut novel Homegoing; besides, a close friend gave it her highest recommendation. Agreed.

Hunger: A Memoir of (My) Body by Roxane Gay (Amazon, Bookshop) — National Book Critics Circle Award Finalist, Lambda Literary Award winner, and named one of the best book of the year by by Time, NPR, The Washington Post, and many others. Extraordinarily interesting. I also recommend Debbie Millman’s interview with Roxane Gay on Millman’s podcast Design Matters.

Absolutely Normal Chaos by Sharon Creech (Amazon, Bookshop) — I love the work of Sharon Creech. The characters in this novel overlap with the characters in Walk Two Moons (Amazon, Bookshop), a book I love.

Heidi by Johanna Spyri (Amazon, Bookshop) — How many times have I read this novel? Countless. And I do recognize the fact that feeling the urge to read it is my anxiety tell.

The Vanishing Half by Brit Bennett (Amazon, Bookshop) — A compelling, thought-provoking novel. Ellen Gamerman’s Wall Street Journal article “Bestseller ‘The Vanishing Half’ Finds an Audience in Turbulent Times” explores the tremendous buzz it has created.

Mariana by Monica Dickens — My daughter Eliza told me to read this book, which she described as “cozy.” Say no more! Bring on the cozy. By Charles Dickens’s great-grandaughter. Published by Persephone Books, a publisher that all book-lovers should know about. Wonderful books, beautifully published.

The Time of Green Magic by Hilary McKay (Amazon, Bookshop) — My bookish friend Sarah Harrison Smith gave this book such a rave review that I couldn’t wait to read it. A family, plus a magic house, plus books.

You Look So Much Better in Person: True Stories of Absurdity and Success by Al Roker (Amazon, Bookshop) — I love aphorisms, so I loved the organization of this book by “ALtruisms”—lessons for career and life that Al Roker has learned along the way. So many great insights.

Grocery: The Buying and Selling of Food in America by Michael Ruhlman (Amazon, Bookshop) — I found this book fascinating; I love a book that gives me new insights into aspects of the world I take for granted, like grocery stores. In fact, maybe I’ll make a list of books like this—books such as Traffic by Tom Vanderbilt (Amazon, Bookshop).

Burning the Days: Recollection by James Salter (Amazon, Bookshop) — I love Salter’s novel Light Years (Amazon, Bookshop), so I was curious to read his memoir. A very unusual book.

Justice and Her Brothers by Virginia Hamilton — Coretta Scott King book award. I’m a big fan of Hamilton’s work, which is highly original. This is the first novel in her Justice Trilogy; I just got my hands on Dustland, the second in the trilogy.

Smellosophy: What the Nose Tells the Mind by A. S. Barwich (Amazon, Bookshop) — More about the senses! How I love the sense of smell.

The Night Swimmers by Betsy Byars — National Book Award for Children’s Books. I love the work of Betsy Byars, but somehow I’d never read this one. Very short and packs a big punch.

The Underground Railroad by Colson Whitehead (Amazon, Bookshop) — Pulitzer Prize winner, National Book Award winner, and named one of the best books of the year by the New York Times Book Review. More Colson Whitehead! A deeply moving book, and an unusual way of using a fantastical element.

The Unwanted Sound of Everything We Want: A Book About Noise by Garret Keizer (Amazon, Bookshop) — Thinking about hearing has made me think a lot about noise, and this book looks at so many aspects of “noise.”



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